Dear Brother Donald

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Letter to President Donald J. Trump

September 30, 2017

Dear Don,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you Don. You can call me Gordy; only those close to me in grade school called me that, but, so did the kids in my confirmation class. Since we were both confirmed in Presbyterian churches, I think it makes sense to call each other Don and Gordy.

brown-psr-3-300-394After writing you yesterday, I wondered whether your confirmation class read the same book mine did. Did you read Robert McAffee Brown‘s The Bible Speaks to You? I have to confess I didn’t read much of it at the time. I faked it. Maybe you did, too. I think we were probably a lot alike that way, don’t you think?

Anyway, this morning I went online and found The Bible Speaks to You in Google Books — Google, like Twitter, is amazing, don’t you think? — to see what we were supposed to be reading and to get a sense again of what we were being taught. Even way back when we were in confirmation class, we were being taught that Jesus was killed by the coalescence of two mistakes that seem to be the opposite of each other: nationalism, on the one hand, and imperial rule, on the other. They went hand-in-hand in deciding Jesus has to go.

Do you remember that?

Jesus wasn’t big on either nationalism or or empire; he saw both as substitutes for God, idols manufactured by the human heart to provide a false sense of security and importance. I suspect you may have skipped those chapters of the New Testament, but this wouldn’t be the first time the crucifixion was erased from consciousness. It happened in the German Church in the 1930s when the majority Christian population blamed the Jews, the Gypsies, the communists, and homosexuals for Germany’s fall from greatness. Make Germany great again was the agenda back then and Jesus was weeping all the way through it — in the concentration camps and in the cattle cars of the trains that removed from the nation everyone who wasn’t of the Aryan race, an idol of exceptionalism that, like all idols, had no foothold in reality itself.

Do you remember how we hated Hitler and all that stuff in confirmation class, how we thought of ourselves as Christians who would never do that because we were disciples of Jesus, and as Americans who would never do that because … well, we were Americans? We were better than that!

Funny how things change sometimes if we don’t pay attention, don’t you think? Maybe we paid too much attention to that period of world history and not enough attention to Robert McAfee Brown and the Bible. Long after we finished confirmation class to become disciples of Jesus, Robert McAfee Brown said something I’m remembering now:

Who we listen to determines what we hear. Where we stand determines what we see. What we do determines who we are.

I wonder who you’re listening to, where you stand on all of this, and write you now because, as your brother in Christ, I went on to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his American friends,Paul Louis Lehmann, William Sloane Coffin, and, yes, our old confirmation class author Robert McAfee Brown, who all claimed that what we do determines who we are.

The Bible speaks to you

Original cover of The Bible Speaks to You used in Presbyterian church confirmation classes in the 1950s and ’60s.

Don, if you can find a moment this morning, you can click this  Amazon LINK to The Bible Speaks to You, click “Look Inside” and scroll down to what neither of us can remembers now that we’re over 70 years old and forgetting much of what we learned. Take a look at pages 11 and 12 about the Marine Corporal following Robert McAfee Brown, the Marine Chaplain, back to his quarters after a Bible study on the Gospel of John story of Lazarus:

“Chaplain,” he said, “I felt as thought everything we read this morning was pointed right at me. I’ve been living in hell for the last six months, and for the first time I feel as though I’ve gotten free.”

You’ve been in the White House for nine months now, and I suspect it may feel like a hell you’ve never experienced. Maybe the same thing can happen with you as happened with the Marine.

634px-Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_The_Raising_of_Lazarus_-_Google_Art_Project

“The Raising of Lazarus” — Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1318-1319)

Remember, Don, every one of us has had at least a taste of hell these last nine months, but I’m looking to you for something different to rise from the ashes of our confirmations: a refutation of nationalism and empire. As Robert McAfee Brown said when he was much older, “What you do determines not only who you are but who we are. ” Take a close look at the picture of Robert McAfee Brown and at . It feels as though he’s looking at us to see whether we’re with Jesus and Lazarus.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart (“Gordy”), Your Brother in Christ

Chaska, Minnesota

Lazarus and “the rich man”

gustave_dore_lazarus_and_the_rich_man

Gustave Dore print of Lazarus and the rich man. (1890)

Jesus told a parable about a man with a name ‘Lazarus’ – a poor man – and a man who has no name – “a rich man”. The parable begins like this:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.” [Luke 16:19-20 NRSV]

The scene then shifts from the difference between their earthly circumstances to the imagined differences between their circumstances in an afterlife. Lazarus is soothed in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man is in torment, pleading that if only he had known, he would have lived differently. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them. tell his living relatives. If he can come back to them from the dead, they will understand, change their ways, and avoid the coming judgment.

Abraham’s reply?

“‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ [The rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” [Lk. 16:29-31].

Jesus’ parable is not about the dead. It’s about the living. About how are to live together as neighbors. It’s about waking up to destitution and privilege and heeding the parable’s calling to a society beyond these extremes, a society known for its compassion.

Ask your friends to discuss the news in light of Moses’ response to the rich man. Ask your pastor, priest, or minister how she or he connects the dots with the news in 2016. Ask yourself the question as you listen to the morning and evening news. Ask yourself whether you’re getting the parable or whether the parable got you. Ask God for guidance, for mercy, for change, for transformation of a world of us and them. And give thanks for Jesus, Moses, and the prophets.

The Reign of Christ

I’ve often wondered
why he included
me

in parables of goat
and sheep, of tare and
wheat

of a woman on a floor
to find her one
lost coin

of a manly crowd
with stones to throw at
“her”

of ramming rams and
bleating ewes and one
little lamb

of pride and loathing
of specks and logs in
eyes

of sight and light
of day and sleepless
nights

of father running to
greet his son from
empty sty

of water and wine
and miracles that healed
the sick and

called forth Lazarus
from the tomb, unwrapping
him and me

– GCS, Nov. 24, 2014 – early Monday morning the day following Christ the King (Reign of Christ) Sunday.